I bet nowhere in the world you will see such an enormous variety and such a great number of ornaments as worn by the Khampa Tibetans of the Kham region of China during festivals. The Khampa Tibetans are mountain herders livings at high altitude on the eastern Tibetan plateau. They traditionally lived in tents and managed large herds of yaks, sheep and horses. They had to move every few months, so the Khampas have always needed easily transportable form of wealth. They couldn't buy houses, land or put their money in a bank, so for centuries they stored their wealth in the form of ornaments that have been passed down for generations.
These ornaments have always been important symbols of family heritage, wealth and social status. Even today, like their ancestors, Khampas continue to invest much of their wealth in the form of jewelry and ornaments, in part because these items increase in value over time, in part to preserve their old culture, and in part because it brings social prestige. The value of these ornaments is anywhere from several tens to hundreds of thousands of US dollars (no wonder there is a big military presence at such festivals).
Their ornaments are very chunky, bold and colorful. Both women and men wear these ornaments on festival days. Typical woman's costume consists of a head gear featuring stones of amber, turquoise and coral, silver or gold ornaments - designs vary from county to county; necklaces made of coral, amber and ancient dzi beads - preferences yet again differ from county to county; belts studded with ornaments made of gold, silver or copper inlaid with ivory, gemstones and coral; bracelets made of animal horn, gold or silver; and big gold rings set with coral and dzi beads. In addition they display an astounding array of hairpins, earrings, amulet boxes, silver purses and waist knives.
The whole complect takes no less than two hours to put on (with the help of family members) and is incredibly heavy, can weigh as much as 30 kg.
Men also wear many ornaments: heavy leather belts decorated with silver or gold plaques; large and small amulet boxes, silver purses, strings of beads, rings, bracelets and sometime head gears as well. They often carry old-fashioned muskets or long swords.
These breathtaking costumes are only worn during important festivals a couple of times a year.
All the photos courtesy Better World 2010
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